Center for American Progress

Reckoning with History at the University of North Carolina

Reckoning with History at the University of North Carolina

Columnist Sam Fulwood III argues that his alma mater must deal directly with its history, not revise it for the sake of contemporary comfort.

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idea_bulbI make no secret of the fact that I love my alma mater, the University of North Carolina, or UNC. Lately, amid a plethora of negative news, it hasn’t been easy to love.

As a UNC alumnus, I was invited back to campus last week to offer an opinion on yet another controversial issue that roiled the campus. Responding to the demands of a multiracial coalition of students, the board of trustees held a hearing during its spring meeting to consider what to do about Saunders Hall, which was named in 1922 in honor of a fellow alumnus, William L. Saunders, who served as a Confederate colonel in the Civil War and was a noted state political leader. And, oh yeah, he was a leading figure in the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan in the state.

I waded into this messy debate out of a sense of caring concern about the university. As I told the trustees, love isn’t always easy to embrace. The bitter realities and inconvenient truths about the objects of affection can lead us to ignore things that make us uncomfortable. For that reason, I strongly urged the board to leave the Klansman’s name on the classrooms with prominent explanations and historical contextualization as a history lesson for anyone who walks on the campus quad.

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